Friday, August 26, 2011

Emergence

In a recent post I defined conversion, from my perspective, as:

Conversion is a religious term that essential boils down to arguing, debating, coercing, or forcing someone to see things the way you see them. To conduct themselves in the way that you see fit or acceptable.

I know this isn't the traditional definition, and it isn't even the most flattering definition, but it is a mentality that I believe many churches, ministries and individuals have adopted, perhaps unconsciously.

Not all, but there are an abundance who do.

A blogger friend of mine, Natalie, commented on the post and asked me the following question...

"If people who were taught the gospel of Jesus Christ, and felt it's truthfulness were not converted, then what were they?"

And I thought it was a damn good question to ask, so I kicked it around in my head for a good portion of the night, and by a "good portion" I mean that I couldn't fall asleep till I finally wrote some thoughts down on paper in the wee hours of the morning.

The word I would use to describe an encounter with Jesus is change. Plain and simple.

Conversion, to me, implies formula. It implies a "plug in the numbers" solution. Math was never my strong subject.
I find that faith is different, however, because it has way too many different variables.

There are many organizations that devote countless dollars, and hours of volunteerism, to the printing and distribution of literature, booklets, and pamphlets that can explain how you can have your own little piece of salvation today.

One of the key verses in these pamphlets are the words found in Romans 10:9:

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."

Somehow, this has become the "conversion formula."

If you... say this particular prayer, and believe what is outlined in this particular booklet, you can be 100% assured of where you would end up if you died tonight.

The problem with this ideal is that it doesn't work. Saying words doesn't change a heart, or a life for that matter.

Throughout my summers as a child, attending church camp, I prayed that prayer every single time I was at camp. It was the trendy thing to do. It never changed my life.

There must be something more to having Jesus enter someones life than a "magical prayer."

And there is.

Consider the early church...

The book of Acts is fantastic, because it is narrative that is about a group of people who chose to live a lifestyle that was unlike anything the world had seen up till that point.

The disciples who had fled after seeing their rabbi executed, suddenly came back bold, changed men, sharing a message that was sure to cost them their lives (and for all but one of the original 12 it did).

But, it wasn't merely about sharing a message, or winning converts to a new religion. The disciples were not about that, and neither was Jesus in his time on earth. It was about a new way of living. The creation of a community that was strikingly different and inviting.

Bringing the kingdom of God to earth.

This was a group who shared amongst themselves.
They cared for the unemployed.
The sick.
The starving.
The hurting.

This was a group where the rich dined with the poor.
The Jews with the non-Jews.
God's "chosen" shared fellowship with the previously "ungodless" and "unclean."

What the heck happened?
It wasn't conversion. It was change.

Change is foundational to the understanding of a life that has been rocked by an encounter with the Living Christ.

When I encountered Jesus, for real, it was about two years after I graduated high school.

I was about as close to an athiest as a rational agnostic could be. I couldn't say for sure that there was no God, but...odds were there wasn't. And if he was up there somewhere he certainly didn't care about me personally.

Throughout high school, and early college I battled with suicidal thoughts. There were good days and bad days. When I was busy with friends, and family and school the thoughts let up a bit, but every night they'd come back. Even when I was on medication for depression, the thoughts would always be just around the corner. Death was a regular thing in my mind.

It was scary, but I just thought that was just life. The life of someone with depression.
It really was a battle.

But then I met this Jesus guy, and things changed.
When I realized that this life wasn't my own, and asked him into my life, the suicidal thoughts stopped.
The depression hasn't left me friends, but there was something new in my life that I hadn't had before.

I finally understood why this Jesus was different for so many. For the first time in nearly a decade I had...

Hope.

Such a small word, yet so powerful.
This is what conversion, religion, and legislative morality cannot do for the individual.

Everyone encounters the Living Christ differently.
There is no "one size fits all" Christian formula, so it is dangerous to assume that a genuine experience with Christ comes only through saying a prayer, going to church, or doing church-y things.

A friend of mine struggled very hard for awhile with God before falling into despondency.
I'll never forget her words, as they still echo in my head to this day...

She said, "I've tried experiencing God like you do, it just isn't real to me..."

Those words broke my heart.

But I realized something in the aftermath that I wasn't clever enough to catch at the time, I can't help but wonder if it would've helped in that moment.

This girl was trying to duplicate my experience.
She was trying to encounter Jesus as I had encountered him, and becoming exceedingly frustrated at the same time.

There is no mold for encountering Jesus or God.
He meets us where we are at.
He asks only for our hearts, and the courage and fortitude to try to love him with all we have in us.

One of my favorite authors, Paul, writes in the book of 2 Corinthians that:

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, behold! The old is gone, the new has come!"

Creation implies process, not a finished work.
There is something new, but it is yet in the process of being formed, shaped, created...

As with each piece of artwork, the new creation of Christ within the individual is unique and beautiful.

Replicas are not a work of creation, replicas are merely imitation.

Perhaps this clarifies things a bit.
Perhaps this helps you understand my disdain for the "institutionalized" idea of "reaching the lost."
Perhaps this may even help you understand the reason that when you go to church, you don't necessarily feel God's presence or love amongst his own people.
Or perhaps you didn't take anything away from this.

But if nothing else remember this, a life marked by experience with Christ will change you.
When the concepts of the Gospel is stripped down to its bare bones, the message of God to people is about bringing new life, creating new creations, and restoring what was.

That is the power of the message brought forth by a revolutionary Christ.

2 comments:

Natalie said...

I am sorry to have caused you loss of sleep! But you sure came up with a stellar answer! I love how you bring up the classic debate over grace vs works. I couldn't agree with you more.

I have a lot of respect for people like you, who have overcome significant challenges, and had the humility to choose faith over agnosticism. That couldn't have been easy. You're an inspiratioin to the rest of us constantly seeking that change. And thanks for pointing out that it's different for everyone! We can't all experience it like Paul on the road to Damascus. :)

Josh said...

Natalie- Totally worth the lost sleep, don't sweat it. :) I love when people comment, but also leave their own thoughts and pose questions like yours because that, in turn, gives me things to think about and write about and such. :) Plus, I always find that my friends teach me quite a bit more than I manage to teach them. So thank you! :) This is a place of Perspectives, and yours are equally as important as mine! Thanks again!